Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate

The Daily Show’s Jason Jones investigates why gay translators aren’t wanted by Uncle Sam.

Democrats (and Republicans with guts and/or brains) should draft a new law that makes an exception to the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy for gay soldiers who function as translators and who work in certain other intelligence-related roles. Even though the Republican leadership is perfectly happy having known-to-be-gay representatives in senior House leadership positions and charged with protecting America’s children from predators, they still don’t think they belong in our armed forces helping translate terrorist intercepts. It’s both ludicrous and tragic that we’re allowing homophobia to gut our counterterrorism capabilities.

It’s idiocy to want to restrict gays from combat roles in the military, of course, but it’s a thousand times more idiotic to bar them from desk jobs where the bullshit “unit cohesion” excuse doesn’t even hold water. Many Americans who may not actually be raging homophobes, including many Democrats right up to Bill Clinton, still support “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” out of some kind of twisted tolerance for the cultural backwardness they think typifies the American soldier. But even they shouldn’t be able to reconcile that stance with the detrimental effect the policy is taking on our counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities.

Because of the primacy of the War On Terror over All Other Issues, legislation making an exception for gay translators would be hard to oppose by many would-be tolerant members of Congress, and it would be hard for Bush to veto. Of course, now that the Republican House leadership has been exposed as being secretly tolerant of gays even while they are publicly bigoted against them, maybe the GOP will once again feel obliged to pander to their base by acting just a little more bigoted than they actually are. That would be sad.

I fear that the biggest obstacle to such a bill may well be Democrats who think that it doesn’t go far enough, who won’t settle for chipping away at injustice, fighting for the civil rights of some soldiers while leaving others out to dry. Noble minded, but strategically foolish. Sigh.


8 responses to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate”

  1. The institutionalized bigotry against gay, lesbians and transgender people in the USA is simply unacceptable.

  2. the chip away tactic has been working the past 30 years for republicans against legalized abortion, why not try it in the reverse here?

  3. Bob VanBurkleo Avatar
    Bob VanBurkleo

    Chip away won’t work because the abortion foes WANT to stop all abortions, the military doesn’t want all gays. If you let the military ‘pick and choose’ only the gays they want to keep that do nothing for the ones that they don’t want – the military’s needs will be fulfilled. Just would be giving them their cake and letting them eat it too; “gay personnel are a detriment to the service – unless we a say so.” How very convenient – for them.

  4. “Chip away” worked for the civil rights movement, both with regards to race and gender. It worked for gay rights in all other spheres besides the military, and in fact DADT, as lame as it is, was the first time anyone ever even tried to make any change whatsoever to the military’s ban on homosexuals. We’re still in the early stages of this one.

    Also, I’d argue that the anti-abortion activists have had a harder time with their battle than we ought to have because they have a Supreme Court ruling to work against — the ban on gays in the military is just a normal law, one that can be modified by subsequent legislation and one that can probably already be considered unconstitutional in many states.

    If it’s “all or nothing” then you better be ready for nothing.

  5. Bob VanBurkleo Avatar
    Bob VanBurkleo

    “If it’s “all or nothing” then you better be ready for nothing.”

    Then nothing is what the military deserves. If they can’t give equal rights to everyone then they don’t deserve to keep just the ones they want – letting them do that would just be stupid – this is a fight for equal rights, can’t get there by giving special rights.

    You make is sound as if letting some gays stay in would be some new situation that might change the status quo. Reality check – there are already gays in the military and most know who they are. I was in the Army 13 years and my boyfriend was the company commander’s best man at his wedding and we got invited as a couple. All it would take is for the Chief of Staff to say “include them, deal with it”, and it would happen. They don’t need to be shown that ‘gays are ok’ they just need to dump the hypocrisy and deal with reality.

    The military only kicks out people when some individual gets a hair up their ass or the gay personnel themselves get tired of being a second class serviceman and decide the military doesn’t deserve their service.

    Sorry, special obligations for some gays isn’t a road to equality – it really is an all or nothing package just as it should be, just as it has been in every other nation that has allowed equality of service (without a single problem either).

    “All or nothing” is the military’s concern. They are the ones losing trained personnel, they are the ones rejecting people when they are short staffed. Its time to put their feet to the fire, not pander to their prejudices.

  6. You make is sound as if letting some gays stay in would be some new situation that might change the status quo.

    Yes. First, it would force Republican legislators to let down their anti-gay guard a little bit, making them less able to credibly position themselves as crypto-homophobes as many of them do. And it would make the military better able to translate foreign intelligence and enable them to fight better.

    Bob, it sounds to me like having a military better-equipped to fight terrorists (or whoever) is not in the least bit important to you, as if the military wasn’t even a part of America. Allowing gays to serve openly in the military is, to me, as much a national defense issue as a civil rights issue. If a soldier dies because a gay translator was discharged and was unable to translate some critical intelligence, would you smile in satisfaction that justice was done?

    I don’t see how “all or nothing” helps anyone — our national security, the military in general, gays currently serving in the military, or gay people overall. Can you explain how allowing some openly-gay service people to serve in the military is actually worse than expelling them? Because your arguments, while passionate, don’t make any such case. Your arguments seem more based on resentment and revenge (the word “deserves”, for example, has no place in rational debate) than by any kind of desire for progress or common good.

    Notice that I’m not proposing to let the military pick and choose — I’m asking the Congress to force the military to take gay translators no matter what they want. Your comments seem like you think I’m defending DADT, which I am not. And your statement about the Cheif of Staff, too, is just plain wrong: DADT is a federal law, not a mere military policy.

  7. The “chipping away” approach will only work if something is given to both sides. In the case you present (CF), the military is gaining, but the rights of gays are not increasing. as BVB mentioned, they get to have their cake, and eat it. The argument you make is akin to saying “Look, you should be happy we’re letting you do this. See how good we are?” , when we *all* know that it’s more than a little disingenuous on the part of The State.

    The idea of civil unions vs. outright equal marriage is an area where “chipping away” both is and isn’t working. To some, civil unions are a stepping stone to full-on gay marriage, but mostly that is a red herring. The idea being that civil unions are “almost” the same, so perhaps we’ll stop fighting for equality under the law, something that is currently enshrined in the US Constitution. Separate but Equal has been deemed unconstitutional before, although for some reason it’s perfectly OK in this sense.

    I’d also contest the idea that “chipping away” worked for the Black civil rights movement. Sure, there was lots of protesting, which *did* raise consciousness, but rights weren’t actually *gained* chip by chip, but rather giant chunk by giant chunk (Brown v BoE, for example). Of course, in some spaces, they haven’t gone anywhere at all *in law*(see equal rights for women).

    The only real solution to our security problem is to stop bullying the rest of the world. Changing foreign policy will stop this, although it won’t happen overnight. Hell, with the damage that’s happened in the last 6 years, I wonder if it can be repaired in our lifetime.

  8. CM & Bob: I hear what you both are saying. First, you’re reluctant to give the opposition a compromise for fear that they will use that as an excuse to oppose further concessions. I understand that, but can’t think of any major political debate that displayed this dynamic, where a movement for change towards increased liberty was halted by compromise.

    You are, I think, seeing this as a moral issue, an ethical issue, and a constitutional issue. And I agree that it is all of those.

    But you are not, I think, seeing this as a political issue.

    First, I fundamentally think that the military is NOT the villian here. As Bob points out, they know perfectly well that there are plenty gays in their midst. The villian here is political: homophobic politicians and their enablers.

    Separate but Equal for gays in the military is of course not ‘perfectly OK’. It’s clearly unconstitutional. But it’s only unconstitutional if you first think that banning gays from the military is unconstitutional — and the sad fact is that many Americans quite simply don’t think that way quite yet, and they have lots of legal and societal support for their beleifs. By removing these supports one after the other, by bringing doubt about their prejudices into their minds and making their prejudices increasingly unpopular and socially unacceptable, we undermine the political power of their arguments and their ability to sell their ideas to their constituents. Over the long run, we change minds. The Supreme Court will have a lot easier time allowing gays in the military across the board if they’re officially permitted in some places already — and, conversely, they will find it easy to uphold forbidding them across the board if they are already officially forbidden by federal law.

    In this sense, I think that that civil unions can be appropriate — in conservative states, civil unions are probably the best we can hope for within the next decade or two, while in others gay marriage itself is probably a more appropriate goal and can potentially even be accomplished in a matter of months (for example in New York, if Spitzer wins). Hoping for a federal law or a Supreme Court decision in the next few decades supporting gay marriage is a fool’s errand. As in my model above, the Supreme Court will more readily support full-on federal gay marriage if we have: [10 states with civil unions, 5 with gay marriage, 25 with anti-gay-marriage amendments, and 10 with no laws either way] than if they have to decide in a climate where we only have: [5 decidedly pro-gay-marriage states, 25 decidedly anti-gay-marriage states, and 20 states with no stand either way]. Big societal changes such as those made by courts and politicians are based largely on their perception of the totality of incremental changes around them.

    Regarding the black civil rights movement, I think the difference between “chipping away” and “chunk by chunk” isn’t so great at all. Brown v BoE was a big chunk, but that was a full ten years before the Voting Rights Act, and 14 years before the Civil Rights Act. And it was almost a century after the passage of the 13th-15th Amendments to the Constitution. The military itself only began truly integrating our armed forces during and after WWII, and only then small bit by small bit.

    In fact, between the Civil War and Brown there were hundreds of “chunks” or “chips”. One look at this civil rights timeline shows that there were many, many small accomplishments that not only helped both raise consciousness, but also helped undermine the political and legal underpinnings of segregation so that further accomplishments could be more easily made.

    I also see this as a security issue. It’s hard to read what either of you have written without detecting a wee bit of dismissal about national security concerns. I’m pretty liberal in my politics, but I’m not a pacifist nor am I anti-military. I’d find it awful hard to pass up an easy opportunity to give the American military a better ability to translate what our enemies are saying. Regarding the idea that we should stay out of adventurous and stupid wars in the first place, well, I think it’s a good idea to separate support for America’s military capabilities from what the Administration chooses to do with those capabilities.